Despite losing over half its players from last season, the Emerson women’s volleyball team has continued its reign as one of the most dominant forces in the Great Northeast Athletic Conference.
With Monday’s win over Rivier College, the Lions extended their conference regular season game winning streak to 19. The team’s last regular season conference loss was against Simmons on Oct. 28, 2010.
The win was particularly satisfying for Emerson, as Rivier denied them the GNAC title last season in a five-set heartbreaker in the Bobbi Brown and Steven Plofker Gym. This time, the Lions were able to claim a victory on the road, overpowering the previously undefeated Raiders three sets to one.
Head coach Ben Read said that his team was extremely focused going in and the players were excited to get the upset away from their home court, which they were unable to do last season.
“I think we just made less mistakes than we did last year,” Read said. “Last year we were up, and [Rivier] turned things around in the fourth. This year it was sort of the same thing, but for us.”
The Muldoon Gymnasium at Rivier’s home court in Nashua, N.H., was a crowded, noisy atmosphere full of excitement, Read said.
“We were in their gym with some really loud fans,” he said. “Volleyball is one of the few sports where the fans cheer when the other teams make a mistake. People get excited, and it gives energy for the next point. Coaches talk about that energy shift all the time.”
Read said that his team fed off of the energy, using it to step up its play, especially when serving.
“We had some amazing digs by some amazing attackers,” Read said. “We saw some momentum changes and out-fought them in the longer rallies. It was just a battle. We worked harder than them for every point. We passed well and served very tough. They beat us in almost every category except for serving.”
Freshman Juliana Tucker served 35 of the Lions’ 37 assists. Emerson committed only five service errors, while Rivier racked up 18.
“I think we were pretty intimidated by Rivier in the beginning, so we lost the first game,” Tucker said. “We realized we can beat them, we just made unforced errors and we fixed that in the second, third, and fourth games.”
After last season’s finale, the Lions felt they had something to prove.
“I feel like we just wanted it more than they did,” Tucker said. “We worked so hard to come together as a team and fight for every point. Every point seemed like the last point.”
Tucker, the only setter on the squad, is just one of eight freshmen joining this year’s team. The rookies have to replace five starters — five seniors who graduated last spring — and another player who is taking part in the Washington, D.C. Program.
“[Beating Rivier] shows how much we have progressed since the beginning of the year,” she said. “I feel like I have been playing with this team a lot longer than just being a freshman.”
Despite the lack of collegiate experience from its newest players, the team remains as dominant as ever. The Lions are currently 6-0 in the conference and 12-7 on the season.
In the past three completed seasons, Emerson has played in the GNAC championship game twice, and in 2009 the Lions brought home the title. Since that 2009 season, and including this year, they have gone 41-2 in regular season conference play.
According to junior Brandy Eggermann, a third year player, despite having so many rookies, the level of play and overall expectations are still high.
“With a lot of new girls, you expect some bumps in the road,” the libero said. “We managed to get over those bumps fairly quickly. I think we could be even more successful than past teams because we have so much more time to grow together.”
Read admitted that, when the season started, he wasn’t sure his team would match last year’s undefeated conference record.
“I didn’t think we were going to do that this year,” he said. “I thought we would maybe finish second or third in the conference, that there would be a game or two that we would lose that we shouldn’t.”
Despite its record, Read said there are still things that his team can improve on in its bid for the GNAC title.
“We’re doing some good things blocking and passing,” he said. “Right now we have people who are seeing an awful lot of sets. That’s easier to defend against when you know where the ball is going to go. We can add in a few people to carry the load of our offense, maybe start learning a few different plays.”
And though maintaining such a high level of success may seem like it comes with pressure, Read said that it’s actually taken some of the pressure off.
“At this point, because we’re undefeated, we should still finish first, even if we drop one match,” Read said. “It’s a little easier going into some of these matches. I thought there were some we lost that we shouldn’t have, but I think dropping a couple of out-of-conference matches prepared us for our conference games.”
With six more games until playoffs, Eggermann said that the players just need to focus on not getting ahead of themselves.
“It’s good to realize that, as a team, we’re doing really well,” Eggermann said, “but that can be misleading and hinder you, make you not work as hard. An ounce of humility will let us know that we have to work hard for our wins — they aren’t just going to be handed to us.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that the women's volleybeall game against Rivier was on Saturday. The game was on Monday.